Tonight, we’re going to be talking about the 2014 documentary, “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films”.
I just wanted to share this really funny, but accurate description of the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” from a newspaper, I don’t know how they let this slip through when it was printed, maybe it was the writer’s last day on the job and he decided to screw with the paper, but the description for the movie, as written is – “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” Sounds like a Cannon movie! It’s brilliant.
It seems any curiosity from the eighties, any bit of nostalgia will be squeezed into a juice and distilled as a documentary. Cannon Films was more than a curiosity course. It was a symbol of rough and ready independent filmmaking, the combined talents of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, cousins who made movies in Israel, but they came to America with a dream!
Before the main titles, we get a couple of soundbites from the likes of Bo Derek and Richard Chamberlain and they are not speaking with much in the way of affection. They almost make Golan-Globus seem incompetent, but then the titles roll and we see that there is obvious homage to some of the posters, some of the design and also, Michael Dudikoff. It was good to see Dudikoff, and he looks great. He’s aged well.
Some of the actors speak of Golan and Globus with disdain; there’s this one actress who shrieks, “this is not what I signed up for!” She’s enraged. She signed on for a movie called “The Happy Hooker”, I’m sorry, what did you think you were signing on for? A kids movie? Apparently Golan and Globus were out of their minds for thinking that people liked sex and nudity in films.
There’s a nice little profile of director Michael Winner, whom I always enjoyed. I watched a lot of Michael Winner films on Cable TV, but the actors and producers that are being interviewed make him out to be a sadist, almost evil with his unusual demands, his sense of style. I mean, speaking personally, as a filmmaker, he’s completely out of his mind. “The Nightcomers”, “The Sentinel”, “Death Wish” and then his Cannon output, wow! But they’re kind-of speaking ill of the dead a little. He’s not around to defend himself.
I don’t regularly watch movies on Laserdisc, just those titles you can’t find anywhere, and this is what’s troubling to me. Consider that you have nearly every movie made eventually mass-produced for VHS, and then only a very small fraction of those titles were produced and marketed for Laserdisc. A larger percentage of those titles were produced for DVD, but not nearly as many for VHS, right? Blu Ray comes along and it’s, once again, a fraction of the titles produced for DVD, more than Laserdisc but still fewer and far between. Specialty companies, like (I’m reminded of Twilight Time and Criterion), come out and cost upwards of $50 because they’re on limited runs and Blu Rays are expensive to produce and distribute, so we’re getting fewer titles because streaming is popular. You’re not going to get those hard-to-find titles on Blu Ray because it’s a niche market and not worth re-couping production-run costs.
So I watched the documentary, “Rewind This!”, about the enclave of devoted VHS collectors, some of them famous, a lot of them with big basements and media rooms, who proudly display their wares. They know that physical product is on it’s way out, that this is something the Studios and Networks have wanted for years – the ability to control their own distribution, their own exhibition.
Remember Sony Corp. vs. Universal, 1984. Universal Studios sued Sony for developing home video recording technology, which is strange considering video recorders had been on the market for around 20 years before this case went to trial. I think it was only when prices went down and more people were buying VCRs that Universal realized they might lose money in the rental market. Then copy-guard and Macrovision and other copy protection devices were introduced to keep people from dubbing movies. I think Universal was the first company to use copy-protection, after MCA Videocassette, Inc. was dissolved and MCA Home Video was formed.
We have here a special occasion at BlissVille. The very first guest on this podcast was a young lady, wise and fresh from my tutilege who inspired me in numerous ways I can’t even begin to calculate. Neena “Nagmeh” Nejad made a movie called, “The Price of Honor” about the cultural phenomena known as honor killings. It’s not a musical-comedy. It’s not the nicest subject in the world, but the documentary has exploded over the last, I want to say 9 months, from getting theatrical releases to distribution, which is an incredible development for a small documentary, and I say small because nobody gave them a hundred million dollars, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence aren’t in the movie.
I was thinking about this the other day. It’s quite difficult to mount a documentary now as opposed to say 10 or 15 or 20 years ago because there have been so many advances in the technology to view little bits of people’s lives, the internet has exploded, we have more channels, we have much more competition for stories about interesting people.
A note about the picture: this photograph was taken in July of 2001 by Christina Fabulic, our makeup girl who appears in the film, “They Only Come Out At Night”. Neena and Christina would make fast-food runs when we were shooting in midtown. When I had the photos developed (something you had to do back in those days), imagine my surprise when I saw this.
“I’d say “unfocused” sums it up nicely. The basic concept (I guess) seemed to be taking a look at underground music with The Shy Guys being the central, unifying element. I mean, that’s weird enough as it is, but that could, at the very least, be charming. My best guess as to what actually ended up happening was Dave Moviemaker started out making this just about the Shy Guys and then stumbled across these other bands (DBA, Unlovables, Ergs). And he obviously liked them enough to want to include them. Problem is, it’s all kinda stuffed in the middle with little to no context.”
“I have a secret. We were never all that enthusiastic about it. It’s just that, some dude was making a god damn movie about our lives, for no reason except that he was crazy. The very least we could do was pretend we thought it was an awesome and good idea.”
“We were of course flattered that some dude was working hard to make a movie about our bands, and excited at the possibility, however small, that it might promote our music. But you weren’t there to watch it unfold every step of the way, dude. It was pretty obvious almost immediately how disastrous this shit was.”
“Well, basically, Dave (the film maker) ruined this movie by not understanding the scene or the relative importance of the bands, and the relevant unimportance of other bands featured in the movie. Chadd ruins his own scenes by being boring and uncomfortable and comes off as extraordinarily boring. Jon and I make this movie by being ourselves.”
“Basically, Dave dropped the ball from the beginning, even though we repeatedly told him who the important bands were and that we were ultimately unimportant. He didn’t listen.”
From the years 2002 to 2005, I was indisposed, directing a documentary on the pop-punk scene in New York City called “American Punk NYPP”. I remember adding the “NYPP” (New York Pop-Punk) to the end of the title to distinguish the source material and separate it from any other documentaries on the subject, should they occur, and also because in the “honeymoon” period after shooting, I was seriously considering sequels; traveling to different places around the world to capture the punk and pop-punk theme on a global level.
The film was finished in 2005, but life got in the way. I had basically a hand-shake deal with Film Threat DVD to release the movie. Mitchell Bard, then head of acquisitions for Film Threat, saw the movie and wanted it. He even stepped in and defended my editorial choices when I got into rows with my co-producers, wrote a letter strongly endorsing my final cut, and making preparations for DVD release (and even screenings). Film Threat DVD went under, I quit my day job, and Bronwyn and I had a baby.
I always had the movie in the back of my head, but distribution was next to impossible without some support, and as we got farther and farther away from any projected release date, the chances were that “American Punk NYPP” would simply become a relic. The idea of making money at that point seemed laughable. You couldn’t just get a movie out there to be seen unless it was advertised, given some DVD pressing, and getting the stuffy indie press to care. I made this movie for no money, not a dime. Nowadays, it’s a whole different matter. It’s a lot easier to get word-of-mouth going and we have the ease of YouTube and Vimeo, not to mention torrent sites (but we won’t talk about that).
I was looking at the Knock Knock “Boreds” (whimsically misspelled) to get some thoughts on my movie, “American Punk NYPP”, and it moved me (for a minute) that people were still talking about the film, from 2004 to 2010, but as we go along, the comments go from hopeful (“… when the hell is the movie coming out?”) to bitter and downright nasty (“This was a terrible idea for a project. it has always sounded amazingly unfocused and pointless.”) Incidentally, this was not terrible idea for a project. Ever seen “Left Behind”? That was a terrible idea. How about the latest Superman and Spiderman reboots? I find it hard to believe I committed a mortal sin in the world of filmmaking.
Basically a lot of rhetoric and, let’s face it – acidic bullshit, had been going back and forth between the principal people involved. Some collaborators heaped shame on themselves, and some heaped it on me. I had known the guys in the bands for a few years. They had tenacity and ambition and that’s the kind of story I wanted to tell, but as we shot the interviews (two years, if I remember correctly), the subject grew, got bigger and bigger and it became more about the cultural phenomenon, the pop-punk scene in New York City.
I would say that the people commenting (especially the nasty comments) are too close to the material and the experience to truly understand either the narrative, or the points we were trying to make. They do not know of the world they had collectively built. The message was simple: there’s a whole other world out there you don’t know anything about, bands toil in obscurity and anonymity but they have devoted followers. These are kids. Kids in bands! They were intellegent, rational, thoughtful teenagers who picked up guitars and drumsticks and tried to change the world with their music. That’s actually all that matters to me. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.
Despite Chris Grivet’s claims, I was wildly open to their ideas. Jon Vafiadis was the person who supplied me with all the information on other bands, arranged interviews and shows to record, and essentially hooked me up in the pop-punk world and we plunged into that world with nothing but vigor and enthusiasm. We profiled bands who had achieved various levels of success and we interviewed interesting people. I remember telling Jon we needed more “cheesecake” in the movie and he hooked me up with Galaxy Rodeo and The Unlovables. The final cut of the movie is 70% other bands, with Triple Bypass and The Shy Guys as a “framing” story, an exemplar band; the standard by which my movie measures all of the other bands. At the end of the day, I have many witnesses to that fact.
Chadd Derkins surprises me most of all. Of all the people I interviewed and had the privilege of spending time with, he was one of the most enthusiastic and vocal supporters of not only the film proper, but the shooting process. All you have to do is look at the film to see his beaming countenance. He was like a kid in a candy store whenever we shot. He invited us to his rehearsal space. He invited us into his home, gave us a tour of his house and his extensive music collection, and performed an impromptu song for my assistant, Neena. Now, he claims he was either forced or coerced to do the song. I don’t remember holding a gun to his head. He even calls the movie “disastrous”. I don’t know to what standard he elevates his film-viewing experience, but I don’t think my movie qualifies as disastrous. More likely, “monumental”. Yeah, I like that word.
Granted as opinion, people outside of this scene seemed to enjoy the movie immensely. They enjoyed Grivet and boring, uncomfortable Derkins and just about everybody we talked to while shooting. People outside of the business were tickled and fascinated by these talented young men and women. These are the people this movie was made for, not insecure musicians but real people.
So how could I see these comments, these feelings about what these kids were a part of, and not feel in the slightest sense betrayed? I mean, seriously, the shift is subtle but goes from being completely jazzed about seeing the movie, about the enthusiasm generated among the hardcore fans and friends of these bands – to apathy, to lambast, to outright dissing. I went ten years without providing the much-needed counterpoint, or lending my voice to the discussion, and I got bit on the ass for it. I never treated those people with anything less than the utmost respect, courtesy, and good humor, and this is what happens. I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back, and I was made to look incompetent as a result of these comments.
As to why there was never a proper release for the movie, I believe I’ve already covered that. Things happen. I had a deal with Film Threat DVD but I went broke and Film Threat went out of business. Bronwyn and I had a baby in 2006, and believe me, when that happens, your priorities change. Now that my daughter is somewhat capable of keeping herself busy, I’ve decided to go back to the final cut, dust off my old gear and give the movie a decent transfer.
So last night I find that I’ve been immortalized in a song by The Jerkingtons called “Hello I’m Dave Lawler, I’m a Filmmaker”. An amusing piece, it takes shots at me making the movie and then “putting it on the shelf” and that after I’m done with the movie, I’ll “go back to my job at Blockbuster Video” (I lost that job in 1998 or 1999, years before I started shooting). Also that I stopped going to shows after I finished shooting. Yes, that’s true. It’s called a year-and-a-half of editing from 70 tapes worth of footage. Dicks. Again, try having a kid and going broke while somebody is tapping on your shoulder asking when you’re going to release a fucking movie.
I went to bed last night cursing their names in my sleep. My wife tells me, “It’s easier to write a song than make a movie. They don’t understand.” She happens to be right. Especially if you’ve heard The Jerkingtons. Dicks.